Liturgy of Good Friday
Solemn Veneration of the Holy Cross
19 April 2019
In my 4th year of seminary, as a deacon, I often assisted at the morning Mass for the Missionaries of Charity at their convent in the Vatican – a house established by Sts. Pope John Paul II and Teresa of Calcutta. It was a very small chapel, barely enough room for the 6-8 sisters, an altar, the priest and myself. Yet, on the wall behind the altar – and in every convent of the MC’s – hangs enormous crucifix. Directly to the right of the cross are the words: “I THIRST.” These words are a direct quote from St. John’s Gospel uttered by Our Lord from the cross. A small detail that perhaps not many of us pay attention to and skip over while reading… yet full of meaning. Was Jesus just thirsty? In no way would have a sponge with gall and vinegar quenched the thirst of the savior. So, what was He thirsting for? St. Teresa of Calcutta once put it this way: “We want satiate the thirst of Jesus on the cross for the love of souls.” And there is our answer … Jesus’ thirst is a thirst for souls. The question that I think of though is that after having been tortured, mocked, and crucified … after having endured all that pain and suffering, how could He possibly want more? How could it possibly not be enough? The answer seems to be in the future … so simple … you and I were not born yet. It seems now St. Teresa’s words make sense … they see Him in the suffering of those to whom they serve. In bringing the sufferings of humanity to the cross they satiate the thirst of the savior.
This is how Jesus knows us … He knows every bit of humanity, to the deepest core of our being… in part because He is the Creator but also because, as a human, He entered the world of human suffering. He did not leave us, the crown jewel of His creation stuck in our sufferings … no, Jesus responds to human suffering with His own … He mounted the wood of the cross as the last judgment on sin, suffering and death – a judgment not of condemnation but rather of healing, forgiveness, mercy… this is the judgment of love. This is the thirst of love.
It leads me to ask the question … what are we thirsting for? If Jesus, even from the Cross thirsts for our souls, still thirst for us … do we thirst for Him? Do we let ourselves rest in the stink of our sufferings, the wounds of our hearts, the sins on our souls … or do we look to Him, look up to this great act of love and bring it all to Him? For this is precisely what we do in Holy Communion, we bring it all to Him in a gesture of self-emptying – giving all to the God who heals and has the power to re-create and transform our hearts. The author Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in his book Death on a Friday Afternoon writes: “In the doing of the Eucharist, the hyssop is presented also to our lips, and we are joined to him on the cross. Our thirst is momentarily assuaged, but the wine also sharpens our anticipation of something still to happen: ‘I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ Along the way to the kingdom, to share the cup is to share in his suffering.”
Greg – the mission speaker – commented a little differently on this, yet also quite beautifully … He said that when we come up for Holy Communion, imagine taking out one nail at a time – the hands, the feet … and then Father or the Eucharistic Ministers presents this actual Body, this bruised, tortured, beaten, broken Body of the Lord … this Body is presented to you and placed in your hands … In this dreadful yet glorious act of love Jesus shows us just how much He thirsts for us … to the very last drop, the last ounce of His blood … He gave everything …
What if we replaced the word ‘thirst’ with words like ‘desire’, ‘yearn’, crave’? … In this act of communion, what have we done to show our ‘thirst’ … desire, yearning, craving … for Him? What have we given to Him? For in as much as we take Him into ourselves in Holy Communion, He takes us into Himself.